I imagine myself away in a psychic hideaway, garlanded with wreath beside Bay of Biscayne, spying unseen, like the reason-mad royal society scientists of Bacon’s New Atlantis, antennae out, receiving signals, telescopes trained on the world. I gather around me work that suits me. Using wireframe models draped in polygons, I build new objects. Mechanical Turks. And I do this not by exploiting teams of artists made to sell themselves piecemeal in an unwinnable race to the bottom. I do it, rather, by way of consciousness modification. Reverse behavioral economics. Hypnoses, trances, collective lucid dreams. What constitutes crime in the absence of democracy? Criminality is a response to the wrongs of a society. Mindhunter makes me nostalgic for when universities were universities. Spaces of critical dialogue, where students and professors began from an agreement that established narratives were lies.
I fell asleep the other night listening to a “past life regression” CD plucked from a bin at Goodwill. I woke up afterwards feeling a mild sense of confusion, but otherwise remembered nothing from the experience. What if I’ve been brainwashed, I worried. Had Dick Sutphen, the founder of Valley of the Sun recordings, succeeded in hypnotizing me?
Although the experience wasn’t the “ultimate altered state of consciousness” that the CD had promised, it did weird me out a bit—especially when my post-hypnosis buzz morphed into a raging headache. As I allowed for time to pass, however, this, too, vanished without a trace. I find myself instead in a new scenario, one where I trudge alone through the streets of my neighborhood, shaking off stress, exhausted from a full day’s work. I amuse myself by observing houses, assessing them as expressions of class. One wonders: How much of one’s facade is really ‘chosen’ in this society? For me, housing is paid into simply as a kind of happenstance. Trapped at all points in my life a mere renter. Always and forever, under another’s roof. To compensate, I listen to “Tree Vision” by Rambutan and stare into the depths of a mirror-night, reflected on the surface of a puddle.
I will be owing money on loans I took out to finance my schooling for the remainder of my life, unless I write inspired by a true story, inspired by real events. “Be sure,” I instruct myself. I have power from this point hence to change the nature of my chains. Senses are but a portion, an iceberg-tip, of one’s soul. Tense and relax, inhale and exhale; liberate energy by communicating with feeling from one’s body. One shall think of events as little plays in which one is the leading character. Keep track of changes, mark victories. Take long, deep, slow, breaths. Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the mouth. Exhale completely. Make one’s philosophy pragmatic and operational. Against all adversity, prevail.
Sarah pulls up a new Netflix original series based on the Margaret Atwood novel, Alias Grace.
The series begins with an epigraph from Emily Dickinson: “One need not be a Chamber — to be Haunted / One need not be a House / The brain has Corridors — surpassing / Material Place.” How are we, each of us, so many different things at once? Stories within stories — but common to all, a fiery red anger, which keeps us wide-eyed, awake, and watchful. In Atwood’s world, characters do little but advance plot, their hard lives shortly the ends of them. Character is a device for the transmission of historical circumstance. Eyes open, little time to pretend. Systems that employ persons as servants or slaves are things to despise. Stars blink down at me. An acorn falls from a tree. I am seeing as if montaged across my forehead a cloud of imagery. We are headed toward the bad future: hierarchical, inauthentic. “Where any view of Money exists, Art cannot be carried on, but War only. […]. Art Degraded, Imagination Denied, War Governed the Nations.” So reads Blake’s engraving of the Laocoon. I find in this work words uttered as if by a prophet. Light and shadow. Eyelid movies all my own. Voices, too, telling stories of things not visible. One of these days I should try to design a course on either Noble Savagery or the idea of the wild. The failure of the hippie counterculture over the course of the 1970s signaled the decline of these ideas as significant components of American identity. Wildness is no longer a major trope in the American national-political unconscious — and I regard this as a great tragedy, a decline we ought to mourn. Atwood’s character says, “God is everywhere. He can’t be caged as men can.” Yet the world is all predators and prey. When the weather is like that, one’s heart pounds in one’s ears, make of that what one may.
My students are reading Aldous Huxley’s psychedelic classic The Doors of Perception this week. I’ve taught the book a number of times over the years, but I’m only just now getting around to reading Huxley’s follow-up essay, Heaven and Hell, published two years later in 1956.
To be honest, though (and judging only from what I’ve read so far), I’m finding this latter work to be somewhat underwhelming. Huxley begins by asserting that heightened attention to light and color are common features of visionary experience. “The visions met with under the influence of mescalin or hypnosis,” he writes, “are always intensely and, one might say, preternaturally brilliant in color” (89). As support for this claim, Huxley cites lines from visionary works of poetry like Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” as well as relevant passages from mystical texts like Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations and Irish theosophist Æ’s Candle of Vision. Readers of these trance-scripts will find much of interest (including several valuable leads for further research) in this section of Huxley’s work. My sense, however, is that from this point onward, Huxley grows a bit too enamored with his thesis about light and color. Curtain lifted, he trails off into a lengthy, multi-page digression dealing with the history of humanity’s fascination with gemstones, stained glass, and related kinds of shiny objects. Huxley believes that religious traditions value these objects because of their resemblance to the self-luminous “stones of fire” that are said to populate the otherworldly inner landscapes encountered by visionaries of all ages. “Hence man’s otherwise inexplicable passion for gems,” he writes, “and hence his attribution to precious stones of therapeutic and magical virtue” (103). As a brief aside, let me add that there’s an interesting passage in the midst of this excursus where Huxley speaks of hypnotists who use shiny objects to lead subjects into trance states. “How, precisely,” he asks, “does the view of a shiny object induce a trance or a state of reverie? Is it, as the Victorians maintained, a simple matter of eye strain resulting in general nervous exhaustion? Or shall we explain the phenomenon in purely psychological terms—as concentration pushed to the point of mono-ideism and leading to dissociation?” Huxley himself prefers a third possibility. “Shiny objects,” he writes, “may remind our unconscious of what it enjoys at the mind’s antipodes, and these obscure intimations of life in the Other World are so fascinating that we pay less attention to this world and so become capable of experiencing consciously something of that which, unconsciously, is always with us” (106). Speaking of which: with a burning sensation at the back of my throat, vaguely reminiscent of asthma attacks from childhood, I mark my place in the book with a folded receipt and ascend to Huxley’s “Other World.” As that phrase suggests, Heaven and Hell is rife with spatial metaphors, some of them wince-inducing in ways that demand postcolonialist reading, as for instance when, at the beginning of the book, the tastelessly Eurocentric Huxley digs himself a hole by writing, “Like the earth of a hundred years ago, our mind still has its darkest Africas, its unmapped Borneos and Amazonian basins” (83). Fortunately it looks like there’s substantial criticism of Huxley on these grounds, as in Lindsey Michael Banco’s Travel and Drugs in Twentieth-Century Literature and Sharae Deckard’s Paradise Discourse, Imperialism, and Globalization: Exploiting Eden. To hallucinate means “to wander in the mind.”
Check for blockages. Free oneself from what Christian theologian John Howard Yoder calls “the Powers.” Like Sartre’s “practico-inert,” the Powers name a given form of the world, a “mode of production” that produces individual subjects addicted to that mode’s reproduction. We must try to model for others another way: a life that, through psychedelic resistance to interpellation, sheds its determination by the Powers, thus allowing an improvised, moment-to-moment stepping forth of something new. (Yoder himself, by the way, failed terribly in this regard. He usefully reframed the story of Christianity in countercultural terms, with Christ serving as the preeminent example of how an individual’s refusal to be determined by the Powers can prompt “the creation of a distinct community with its own deviant set of values and its coherent way of articulating them.” But when Yoder himself attempted a similar refusal, positing “intimacy” as a means by which to challenge the world as given, it appears he did so without seeking the consent of others, his legacy thus marred by multiple charges of sexual abuse.) I stare at walls and wonder, what shall step forth today? What new mode of being shall cross through the cracks as we alter the constitution of the given? As Robert Masters and Jean Houston note in their book Mind Games: The Guide to Inner Space, “Man is still something to be realized” (5). From this point forward, I will attempt to assume my role as “guide.” I will bring back from each day’s trance something of value to enrich other heads (and through them, the General Intellect.) Becoming fully aware means becoming one with all that is. Should make you smile. What we’re trying to escape is a cultural trance where, as Masters and Houston note, “we all dream the same dream, more or less, and call it: reality” (13). I feel infinitely more well-provisioned after grilling myself a couple hot dogs. I care about consensus reality only inasmuch as it is there where I get to care for those I love. I care, too, though, for their entire life-body relation, their full organic and inorganic being. Where do we draw the line between that and the whole of nature? Perhaps these experiments need to be performed in groups, each member becoming for the others their Ezekiel.
With my eyes closed, I imagine from an external vantage point the sight of my arms held above me. As if into a phone, I request the identity of the one with whom I speak with the phrase, “Who’s calling?” “Nevermind that, now,” it answers, “let me buy you a drink.” I pull the phone away from my ear and stare at it. My head drops through the screen and tumbles downward, as if into a fantasized space. I unlock a new level, where life resembles Campbell Logan’s video for D/A/D’s “Orion Beach.”